LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Ozzie Albies thought that he might be called up by the Braves in September and then compete for the starting second-base job at spring training. But that all changed Sept. 7, when he swung at a pitch during a Double-A playoff game and felt something really painful in his right elbow.
The diminutive but wiry-strong 19-year-old had broken the olecranon bone at the tip of his elbow, an injury that required surgery and forced Albies to rest for 4 1/2 months before resuming light workouts in late December.
“It was bothering me a little bit before, but I thought it was just soreness, just tired or something,” Albies said Wednesday at Braves spring-training headquarters at ESPN Wide World of Sports, where he has been working out since early January. “But I ended up breaking my bone. I was mad because I had a chance to get called up.
“But I forgot it already, just staying positive and try to be healthy, get ready for the season.”
Albies, who turned only 20 in January, is rated as the No. 11 prospect in Baseball America’s preseason Top 100. The Braves have the top-rated farm system in baseball and he’s their second highest-rated prospect behind shortstop Dansby Swanson, his friend and teammate at Double-A Mississippi before Swanson was called up to the majors in August.
The duo could be the Braves’ double-play combination for years to come, but for now Albies is just trying to make it back and be ready for the start of the minor league season. Swanson could be a leading candidate for the National League Rookie of the Year award.
“When they called (Swanson) up I was like, the only thing I can do is keep playing hard to join him up here, get our double-play combination,” Albies said. “I’m happy for him.”
Albies appears as fit as ever, with muscles bulging beneath his tight workout shirt and no sign of atrophy in his arm. But he hasn’t been cleared yet for full baseball activities and will likely miss at least the first two weeks of spring-training games.
He’s worked up to 120 feet in his throwing program and has been hitting soft-tossed balls at about 80 percent effort from both sides of the plate. Albies hopes that he’ll get the OK to step up his workouts next week.
It’s hard to find comparables for his specific injury, since in baseball a broken olecranon bone usually occurs while throwing or in a fall or collision. To break that bony tip of the elbow on a swing is extremely rare.
Albies concedes that he’s thought about the injury at times as he takes the steps back in his recovery. Such as when he’s in the batting cage taking swings.
“Sometimes (he thinks), like, don’t do it too hard,” he said. “Coaches tell me no rush, take it easy. It feels really good now.”
The Braves signed versatile veteran Sean Rodriguez in November to play second base while Albies continued his development in the minors. After Rodriguez injured a shoulder in a car accident they traded for veteran Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips last weekend.
Phillips, 35, is entering the final year of his contract, with the Reds paying $13 million of his $14 million salary.
“For me it was just, I can learn from him,” Albies said of the trade for Phillips. “I can’t do anything about that, just have to show what I’ve got, see when they’re going to call me up.”